Interview: Grant Thornton CEO Scott Barnes

YOU COULD PROBABLY FORGIVE Grant Thornton CEO Scott Barnes for being bullish about the firm’s latest double-digit growth.

But with profits reinvested rather than doled out to partners, wobbly economic conditions and a tough internal target of £500m in revenues by 2014/15, he gives the air of someone watching over a work in progress rather than the finished product.

With revenues up 10% to £417m, hitting £500m in two years will be some push.

“I still think it’s a reasonable target,” says Barnes. “It’s about having a sense of ambition, wanting to grow. To have a sustainable business you to set reasonable numbers.”

The firm’s recovery and reorganisation unit has outperformed the rest of the business – growing 28% in 2011/12 – and boosting the advisory division’s 22% growth to £205.2m. Corporate finance, also within advisory, grew 6%.

But the restructuring unit hasn’t found it all plain sailing. “Plain vanilla” insolvency work such as administrations haven’t picked up. But GT has benefited in the unit’s other disciplines, such as working on large, complex liquidations like that of Stanford. Its IVA division, which recently acquired RSM Tenon’s division, has also grown.

While these parts of the business should continue to perform well, Barnes warns that other insolvency providers, banking on corporate insolvencies to pick up, will be disappointed.

With interest rates remaining low, Barnes expects insolvencies to “go backwards” for the first half of the year.

“Those that haven’t got a broader offering will suffer,” he says.

The pain of integrating RSM Robson Rhodes into the business has now faded. For Barnes, it’s  about the benefits.

Strong Robson Rhodes offerings in financial services and the public sector have been built on, he says, and will perform strongly.

Growth for the next two years won’t all be down to insolvency, he adds. Winning a tranche of Audit Commission audits will boost the latest year’s figures, while any improvement in the economy will see more transactions – and more tax advice required.

Another “bulk deal” a la Robson Rhodes is now “unlikely”, says Barnes, although smaller bolt-ons might help supplement in higher-growth areas.

“I think we can hit ‘500′ organically by investing in areas where we have strength,” he says.

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